CX Best Practices: Delegate Service Response

When a service failure occurs, a speedy response can save the day. You must plan ahead and delegate service response to enable that speed. Part of your planning should include pushing responsibility and authority as close to the customer as possible.

The Thing That Should Not Be

Imagine that you just bought an item of clothing at the store; perhaps it’s that retro Metallica t-shirt you’ve coveted since 1998. Joyfully leaving the store with your sweet new threads, you look down and realize that somehow the cashier bagged the wrong item.  Instead of that awesome Metallica shirt, he mistakenly gave you an N’Sync t-shirt.  Worse yet, it has an enormous rip down one side.  While that would simply lend street cred to a Metallica shirt, no amount of ripping can save an N’Sync shirt. What bad luck – you always seem to draw the shortest straw.

Dejected but optimistic, you turn right around and walk back into the store.  The cashier who just checked you out has a short line, but you get into the queue and prepare for what should be a simple exchange.  You reach the front of the line and explain the situation.

The Wait

“Oh, I’m sorry about that. I’ll have to process that as an exchange,” he says, even though the Metallica shirt is still sitting at the end of his conveyor belt.

“OK,” you say. How complicated can this be?  After all, the receipt is still in your hand. Nothing else matters.

The cashier begins tapping away, but his brow furrows. “Hmm, the N’Sync shirt was on sale, so I’ll have to charge you the difference,” he says.  “Also, the shirt you’re returning is damaged, so I need to get my supervisor to approve the return.”

Don’t Tread on Me

Your cheerful mood begins to dissipate, replaced with righteous anger. “But I’m not returning it, you literally gave me the wrong item.” It’s a bizarre situation, sad but true.

“I understand, sir, but this is the store’s policy.”  He calls over for a supervisor.  Minutes tick by, and finally a supervisor arrives.  The cashier explains the situation.

The supervisor looks at the N’Sync shirt, then turns to you with an abundance of attitude and says, “I’m sorry sir, we can’t accept a damaged return item.”


Now you’re mad.  All thoughts of showing up at your 20th high school reunion in that awesome Metallica shirt have been replaced with the frayed ends of sanity. “I’m not returning it!” you protest. “Your cashier bagged the wrong item!” You’re pumped up, ready to fight fire with fire.

The supervisor gives you a steely look, trying to decide if he’s better than you. Finally, acting like you’re some kind of monster, says, “I can see if the store manager can approve it.”

The supervisor pages the store manager, who finally appears. He listens to the story, quickly agrees to accept the “return”, and even throws in the price difference between the shirts so you don’t have to pay the difference.  He is the hero of the day.

Elapsed time: nearly twenty minutes out of your life. Cost to the store: immeasurable good will, squandered over the potential absorbed cost of a damaged t-shirt.

More Than This

When a service failure occurs and a company lets a customer down, the customer simply wants to resolve the issue quickly and easily.  Not getting an issue resolved quickly is an enormous source of customer anger, frustration, and churn.  In fact, the data shows that 67% of customer churn is preventable if the customer issue is resolved at the first engagement.

Quick resolution requires that the first contact has the ability to successfully resolve a customer’s complaint. That means that those first responders must have training, responsibility, and authority to make things right.

Unfortunately, many organizations introduce multiple layers of policy and approval, usually in a misguided attempt at loss prevention.  Congratulations, you kept the $10 t-shirt but lost the six-figure-lifetime-value customer.

Carpe Diem Baby

To resolve customer complaints quickly, you must push all of that responsibility and authority out to the edges of your organization, to the people who interact with your customers first.

Yes, that can be challenging.  Yes, it may cost you some money when those front-line folks overcompensate for a minor customer inconvenience.  But that’s ok.  After all, you most likely spend enormous amounts of money on marketing and sales in an effort to gain customers.  What’s a little cash spent to retain a customer?

Turn the Page

Set guidelines and train your people on appropriate handling of customer complaints.  If a guest is unhappy with a meal, compensating them for the cost of the meal and offering them a complimentary dessert is probably appropriate, but a gift certificate for $1,000 most likely is not.  Provide sample scenarios and test their responses, then let them loose.

Insist that your front line team members record every incident where they resolve a customer situation, including the cost of any consideration given or items accepted back.  Afterwards, go over the resolutions with the whole team and point out areas where a customer may have been over or under-compensated.  If an employee goes a bit overboard, counsel, but don’t punish (unless it rises to the level of obvious abuse.)

Track the total cost of these service recovery operations, but also track customer churn and see if it improves.

The End of the Line

Great organizations leap into action when a service failure happens, whereas bad organizations turn every service failure into a bureaucratic nightmare, a creeping death that eventually chases loyal customers away. To ensure that great response, you must empower the front line team.

Nothing else matters.

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